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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Candy and Keychains: Job Fairs

One of the things that was left remarkably unchanged during my time away from Buffalo is the job fairs. Job fairs are there so a person can get his name out to one or two dozen employers at once, at least in theory.

In my experiences, job fairs are there to act as a giant pissing contest for employers who need to take the short road on the way to glamor and respectability. They’re not there for the applicants, but for the businesses who need evidence to brag about how many applications they’re receiving, how many people they’re hiring, and the great growth potential and opportunities. For even the savviest and most decorated job hunters, they’re a pleasant opportunity to grab some free candy and expand their keychain collections.

My last couple of job fairs had nothing but the same reliable plays out of the boring playbook. There were financial advisors, call centers, the military and a handful of government agencies, and cash-register jobs. Many booths play up the earning potential – the key word is always going to be POTENTIAL – of a place with revolving door turnover, because the companies that use that term require provision of licensing fees or client lists. It feels like luck to spot a place at a job fair which sells fast food, if only because it breaks up the monotony. If a fairgoer really IS lucky, there will be one or two legitimately good places to work, who will pay a decent wage with decent benefits.

At job fairs, my first scouring of the area is a look for temp agencies, where I always leave resumes. I also keep an eye out for the good employers, of which I was lucky enough to find one in two fairs: First Niagara. Unfortunately, the legitimate employers present a few problems of their own. First, they don’t call back, and second, they demand computer applications demanding information that’s either benign and irrelevant or so intrusive that it would be easier to set out and form a corporation of my own that does the same thing. Honestly, intrusive applications should be illegal.

It never takes me very long to work my way around a job fair. I usually get in and out in 20 minutes, tops, and that’s making time to talk to any businesses I haven’t heard of. I’ll grab business cards if I’m interested, but am otherwise provided with nothing but enough useless paperwork to make me hunch over. If the fair is in downtown Buffalo or by Walden Galleria, I’ll take some time to walk around a little, but otherwise my routine is to hand out resumes, take cards, and go home to fill out the applications I can return myself and wait for the agencies to call back. I’ve never known anyone who was hired through a job fair, although I have managed to score a few interviews.

Job fairs are going through motions, in and out with no noticeable benefit to potential employees. I do walk in with a positive outlook and a hopeful attitude – my catch phrase at job fairs has become “today’s your lucky day!” But in the end, I know I’m going to crawl back to Careerbuilder and the individual websites of places I’m interested in, and keep in touch with temp agencies. The difference is, I’ll have a few new keychains and some decent candy.

At least the experience is motivation to apply myself in whatever school I wind up in. My aunt and uncle have suggested trucking, and although it isn’t my first choice, it doesn’t look like a bad idea.

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The Yankee Automatons are Boring and Unwatchable

“I laugh out loud when (my agent) relays the news, loving the Yankees’ interest and shaking my head in disbelief that George Steinbrenner, billionaire owner of the New York Yankees, has taken it upon himself to endure lunch at a burger joint and check me out in person. THIS is an owner who gives a shit. THIS is why the Yankees are THE YANKEES. Granted, a hundred-million-dollar payroll can make a contender out of any team, but there’s more going on here. For all his faults, you can’t deny that George Steinbrenner, the man, not just the wallet, is a tangible, positive factor in the Yankees domination of baseball.”
-David Wells, Perfect I’m Not

Most of my friends met me during my years in Chicago, and to a person, many of them swear they can’t see me being the angry, distrustful, depressed, guarded, sour kid who once chased off potential friendships out of fear. Others might today say they see the occasional trace of that old person but can’t imagine me being the full-blown critter in his reverse glory. Most of them also know that I credit my interest in baseball as part of how I was able to change my character. It created a focal point in my baseball-crazed junior college, so when stuck in conversation, it became one of our go-to topics. I got into baseball during the 2000 season, during the tail end of the Yankee dynasty of the 90’s, and in a year which concluded in a subway World Series between the Mets and Yankees.

By all means, I’m a Mets fan who happens to not cheer for the Mets. All the circumstances I was born into should have tattooed “Mets” onto every available space of my body when I was launched into this world. I’m an underdog as a person, originally born into the working class in one of the poorest cities in the United States. My parents proudly proclaim the Mets as their own team, and it was the Mets who dominated the New York baseball scene in the 80’s. As a baseball fan, I prefer the National League’s style of play. As a team, the Mets are more privy to rolling out the red carpet to the common man than the stoic, corporate, stuck-in-their-ways Yankees. So it comes across as very unusual to any sports-minded friends that I chose the Yankees over the Mets when I began watching baseball. (I rectified this mistake upon my move to Chicago when I chose to support the White Sox over the Cubs, who are basically the Yankees without the titles.) But understand that when I began watching baseball during that 2000 season, the robot drone version of the Yankees wasn’t the team I was seeing, at all.

Often forgotten about those dynastic Yankee teams was that their core was a cohesive, tough, punchy unit which the team had raised and promoted through their farm system. They were a team of underdogs themselves, either raised on the Yankee farm or cast off from other teams for bad play or behavioral problems, and led by a manager who was doubted from the start and expected to become George Steinbrenner’s latest casualty. No one, least of all Yankee fans, expected them to win, and if anything they were expected to go into a severe regression after all the progress they had made in the previous couple of years through Don Mattingly and Buck Showalter. When I began tuning into ballgames regularly, the Yankees weren’t winning because of George’s payroll; they had the best, most cohesive, and most exciting team in the league. Their talent was merely the help and not the entire lineup, and their lineup didn’t believe in no-win situations. The Yankees weren’t always the best team in the league, but they were an emotional squad that left everything they had out on the field. Those Yankees were Andy Pettitte calmly confusing opposing batters and David Wells attacking with the ferocity of an angry grizzly bear. They were Jason Giambi punishing pitchers who dared throw inside while Derek Jeter made every big play that needed making; Jorge Posada calling the best-pitched games in the league and Alfonso Soriano morphing into a human light whip and Bernie Williams patrolling the outfield like a rottweiler. Mariano Rivera slamming the door against star batters who only went to the box out of obligation: Just go up and strike out so they can get drunk before the bars close, it’s not like Mo is going to give them a chance.

I loved watching the team from the 2000 title to the first few years afterward, and I suffered through the disappointments: The weird bloop against the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, the implosion against the Los Angeles Angels in 2002, the axel wear-out against the Florida Marlins in 2003, and (god, this is so painful that my fingers hurt typing it out) that dumbfounding, godawful, embarrassing, nightmarish meltdown against the Boston Red Sox in 2004. But still, I loved those Yankee teams – the 2003 Yankees in particular have a special piece of my heart, and I’ll always look at them as the grand finale of the dynasty. The team won plenty afterward, and I always cheered them on, through their beating at Detroit in 2006 to screaming at my screen during the 2009 title whenever Girardi played Phil Coke. Still, it’s that 2003 Pennant which stands as the last testament to true Yankee greatness. That team could have beat the hell out of the decade’s later Yankee teams, including the 2009 team. They would barely have broken a sweat doing it, too.

I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Bronx Bombers, but the teams they’re fielding now are difficult to take. New York’s current ace, CC Sabathia, is one of the most boring players in the league. I could conclusively disprove Saint Augustine’s proofs of God in three languages between each and every one of his pitches. I was embarrassed by the Red Sox meltdown in 2004, but the Yankees managed to top that a couple of years later when they yanked Roger Clemens out of his 783rd retirement. That they were so desperate for pitching help said everything. Their games are now crawling by at the pace of a snail swimming through a tar lake. I’m an adult. I have things I would prefer to be doing rather than watch the Yankees play a three-and-a-half hour marathon that doesn’t even go into extra innings. That seems to be the length of a normal, everyday game these days when I happen to watch, and it’s inexcusable. It’s also not likely to be fixed anytime soon, not with a commissioner who apparently believes his league’s biggest problem is that the playoffs don’t run long enough. I’m flipping on Mets games more often now whenever I need a baseball fix. While the Mets aren’t threatening to replace the Yankees, they play baseball in lieu of standing there scratching their asses, even though Carlos Delgado and Jose Reyes both walked out the team’s front door.

The most interesting aspect of the Yankees’ morph into robot automatons in my sports viewing has been the way its affected my view of the NBA. The NBA is a league I only began paying attention to because I wanted to support Damone Brown, the bigshot jock from my high school who led the Seneca VHS basketball team to an undefeated 1997 championship season. After a spectacular career at Syracuse, Damone was drafted in the second round of the NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, one of the league’s most storied teams. In 2003, I watched the entirety of the NBA Finals and decided there was no way I was ever going to fully understand basketball. That was a slow, dreadful series between the New Jersey Nets and San Antonio Spurs, who won it in six games. That fifth game stands among my all-time nadirs of sports-watching, and the only reason I kept tuning into the league after seeing it was to try to get any word on Damone’s career.

Since Damone was an inconspicuous player who put up career grand totals of 108 points in the only 39 games he played in, I had no idea he was out of the league by 2005, so I continued to watch. Fortunately, the 2003 Finals turned out to be a fluke perpetrated by the NBA version of hockey’s New Jersey Devils (the boring, BORING Spurs, who have since topped my list of basketball teams I hate). I became more of a casual watcher, but as the Yankees got more boring, I started watching more basketball. Soon I found myself becoming more invested in the outcomes of certain games, from supporting the Boston Celtics in their last couple of title runs to hating LeBron James after The Decision. Finally, just a couple of years ago, I got interested enough to end my casual team drifting and adopt the teams of my two life localities for better or worse. I started to care about the Chicago Bulls just in time to see Derrick Rose lead them in one of NBA history’s legendary postseason series against the Celtics in 2009. And, going against the grain for NBA fans in Buffalo, I also adopted the New York Knicks over Buffalo’s most common municipal basketball loyalty, the Celtics. The Knicks and Bulls are now my teams, for better or worse.

The robo-Yankees have pushed me into watching the basketball season more closely than I ever have in my life, and I’m watching the NBA playoffs with greater interest than ever. When I watched my first basketball Finals in 2003, I assumed that the NBA had been playing out in the same way as the NHL. When the New Jersey Devils began employing the Trap, other NHL teams followed because of the great success the Devils had employing it. (They won the Stanley Cup three times.) It ruined hockey until the NHL finally rid itself of the two-line pass rule in 2005. In the NBA, that wasn’t the case. The slow pace of the San Antonio Spurs was something radical, but teams weren’t following them, so it happened to merely be the style that worked for a very deep and talented Spurs team. The Spurs these days aren’t quite so boring either, now that Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have reached their full potential. This is the first year that I’m actually looking forward to the NBA Finals and watching the preceding rounds. Just in the past couple of days, I watched two epic comebacks, one by the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Los Angeles Lakers, the other by the Sixers over the Celtics. I’m caught up, and past the event horizon. There’s no going back from here.

As for the Yankees, they’ll have to get used to the backburner for now. I’m waiting for them to play the White Sox, a team that still plays exciting baseball. Otherwise, go Knicks, go Bulls.

Damone Brown, by the way, was quickly put into Philadelphia’s d-league system. When the Sixers decided they couldn’t get anything else out of him, he also played briefly for the Toronto Raptors (where he once put up 13 against Michael Jordan), New Jersey Nets, and Washington Wizards before the NBA let him go. His life since must have taken a couple of wrong turns, because the last I heard of him was on a local news broadcast earlier this year, when he was going to jail for a year due to involvement in a drug ring. I sincerely hope he gets his life rebuilt afterward, because while his career never reached the great heights of Bob Lanier or Clifford Robinson – two Buffalo natives who went on to long, immensely productive careers in the NBA – Seneca alumni will always regard him as our school’s conquering hero.

The New Pepsi

I was a little thrown off the first time I laid eyes on Pepsi Next. It came to my attention while I was in Saint Louis, and so my first, incredulous reaction was to turn to Kevin and ask “Did Pepsi learn nothing from the whole New Coke fiasco?”

“That was my first thought too. It’s New Coke all over again,” Kevin said.

I laughed off the idea of a new Pepsi model, but I tend to usually give in to hype when it comes to new pop flavors from old favorites. I’ve long wondered why little pleasantries like Lime Pepsi and Vanilla Coke are constantly taken off the market. Being an ex-Pepsi guy from one of the few parts of the United States which shows an unwavering loyalty and preference for Pepsi, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I gave in and bought this so-called next Pepsi. It wasn’t: It was near the end of my visit to New Orleans, when I had just visited the Amtrak station to buy my ticket home to Buffalo. It was night, and I didn’t see any reason to wait for the spotty NORTA bus to take me back to the streetcar line I needed to get back where I was staying. As I approached the west end of Lee Circle, I spotted a gas station and wondered if they were selling Pepsi Next. They were. I bought one, sat at the edge of the Saint Charles line, and popped it open.

Those who pay attention to the world of politics have seen our non-homemade diets come under attack lately for not being healthy enough. Some of the larger corporate food makers are pricking up their ears and starting to take note. Some are altering their original formulas to create their staples in a more health-friendly matter, others are offering healthy alternatives. Pepsi Next, so far, is the healthy alternative to their popular formula. They’ve avoided the master mistake of New Coke so far, which was trying to immediately replace their popular, beloved recipe with the new stuff and expect everyone to be on board. Right now both the original Pepsi and Pepsi Next are available.

Pepsi Next claims to be the original Pepsi recipe with a whopping 60 percent of the sugar cut out. Yes, we have to be aware of the fact that it’s still pop, which means it’s still little more than liquified sugar and fizz. But cutting more than half the sugar is a big step to be taken, and it does show. One of the ingredients in the Pepsi formula is citric acid, and I’m not sure what it’s in Pepsi or and cola for. One thing is for certain, though: Without the massive sugar intake, that citrus flavor is much, much more obvious.

That’s the biggest difference between Pepsi and Pepsi Next. New Coke forced a new formula onto the public that made it taste more like Pepsi. Coke’s recipe has considerably less sugar taste than Pepsi, and this is no doubt what propels Coke into one of America’s great corporate symbols: Coke goes better with a lot of other foods and recipes than Pepsi. It’s a Rum Coke, not a Rum Pepsi. I was expecting Pepsi Next’s taste to be less sugary and to therefore be more like Coke. But that really isn’t the case. There’s a major difference between letting back on the sugar taste and actually using less sugar.

Yes, pulling back on the sugar in such a strong way definitely shows in Pepsi Next. But Pepsi didn’t back of on the actual Pepsi taste, and this appears in an odd taste contradiction. It tastes like Pepsi Next wants to be a fruit-flavored pop, but without letting go of the cola it’s trying to be at the same time. Pepsi Next is a REALLY over-sugared and fizzy citrus fruit drink.

It’s a good thing Pepsi isn’t trying to replace itself with Pepsi Next. I don’t really see it catching on. It’s an under-sugared version of Pepsi’s over-sugared taste, with more citrus acid. Whether or not people adopt Pepsi Next, I think it’s safe to assume that I’m not going to be visiting bars to order Beam and Pepsi or Daniel’s and Pepsi any time soon.

Sucking Wind

I didn’t think I had been off my bicycle for that long. It was April, and I hadn’t been on my bike since December, which for me is a long absence, but one I though I could recover from pretty easily. I had rode several miles of bicycle trails in Illinois/Missouri during my vacation, after all, and when I got my current bicycle, I hadn’t been riding in a couple of months at the time. But on my first ride after moving back, I was able to get to downtown Buffalo – about eight miles of slanted, sometimes hilly terrain – without too much trouble.

When I picked up my bike for my first ride in the Buffalo area for 2012, I had a much more difficult go of it. I had two strikes against me at the time: The first was that it was extremely windy, and the second was that my chain was in dire need of some grease – but, although I wasn’t setting out for the city that day, I barely made it a couple of miles before I began inhaling air by the liter. After struggling down the shorter stretch of Center Road – one of the flattest, straightest, and most easily bikeable stretches of asphalt outside the city itself – a nauseating feeling overcame me, and I suddenly struggled for a decent intake of air. Center Road has a very small strip mall at the closer end, just before it merges with Seneca Street, the street that goes into the city proper.

I was probably between a half mile and a mile from South Buffalo and I had to turn back. Ordinarily, that’s a ride I make very easily without breaking a hair on my head, let alone a lung.

Maybe the exercise I got during my recent month out of town – which was mainly distance walking, with a handful of bike rides in Saint Louis – wasn’t enough to compensate for my massive food intake during the time. I got addicted to biscuits, drank far more alcohol than my body is used to, and sampled several of the unique food staples in New Orleans – gumbo, Ambita, po’boys, and gris gris. I did that stereotyped New Orleans tourist thing in which, at one point, I was drunk and walking through the French Quarter at 3:30 AM back to where I was staying.

In spite of that, I would have figured my body would be better prepared for the bicycling season. It wasn’t like I was inactive during the winter months in which the weather and roads kept me off my bike. I ran virtually every day throughout January and February and covered a half mile up a 6.5 degree incline every morning before my shift began, while lifting weights and eating small doses of protein-rich foods immediately afterward. When my assignment ended and I kept putting off my normal pushup routine, my arms didn’t suffer quite so much when I began it again.

I’m hoping to do the Ride for Roswell if I can scrap up the necessary $150 in donations. I was originally planning to tackle the Century course, but that seems out of the question now, and not just because of its insane starting time.